As a child, I was exposed to a variety of environments that persist as unavoidable influences in my philosophy and process of making art. The people within these environments affect my life, and life is what shapes all of my work.
My fascination with the design and mechanics of machinery was initially sparked by my father’s diligent efforts to raise me to follow in his footsteps as an orthopedic surgeon. He would bring home road kill that he would find on the road side (birds, owls, squirrels, raccoons, whatever) and dissect them with me on the side porch. My father would carefully peel back the layers of feathers and flesh to reveal the organs and tissues, always explaining how they functioned within the body. When my father would be called to the emergency room, I would often accompany him and watch him calmly treat his patients amidst the chaos of the Trauma Center.
I was fascinated by the concept of pulling back the skin of things to see their design and what made them work. I applied my father’s method of dissection to the broken games and toys that my older brother used to sell me. Carefully dismantling, investigating , and repairing many of these items was the start of my own passion to understand objects within the world in terms of its functionality. It was also an opportunity to sell the repaired toys back to my older brother.
When I was ten, I started working at my stepfather’s auto-body shop, where I would block-sand and prepare cars to be painted; a process which required running my hands along the lines and planes of the car to feel for undulations. I remember hanging out, watching the journeymen tear apart cars to repair them–usually a violent act, filled with air hammers, wheel saws, and grinders. The journeymen would cut off mangled bumpers and quarter panels, straighten chassis on the frame machine, and weld and bolt new parts back on, covering the seams with Bondo.
At the age of twelve, I became a silent observer in the operating room. I would peer over my father’s shoulder on a stool as he performed total knee and hip replacement surgery, rerouted tendons from the index finger to the thumb on a mangled hand, and set broken bones. The surgical tooling was immaculate and beautifully designed. Each instrument had its own specific purpose and relation to the body; sterilized stainless hammers, chisels, clamps, pneumatic drills, grinders, saws, and even an electric skin graph machine were all arranged on white, linen covered trays around the operating room. It was often difficult to remember that there was a living, breathing, anesthetized patient under all of the surgical, drab linens.
All the while, my mother was earning her PhD in psychology while she supported and raised my brother and me. Her private practice was attached to our home with a separate entrance, waiting room, and office. She would emerge from her office 10 minutes before each hour, between patients. My mother has always been a passionate teacher, speaker, and conveyor of ideas. I remember, at an early age, being in the audience of a variety of her lectures from the psychology of healing to discrepant sexual desire. Her work ethic and approach to interacting with other people is inspiring. I have always been fascinated by her ability to make things happen through understanding and relating to people.
In college I abandoned my plans to attend medical school because of an overriding dedication to making art. I found medicine to be overrun with rules and essential procedures necessary to keep the patient alive. Once I got my hands in clay, I knew I had made the right choice. Working with materials instead of working on people afforded me a freedom of creativity and experimentation that would never be appropriate in any medical procedure. My interest in tools, machines, and technologies was still present in my art-making process, as was my analytical, problem-solving thought process. Boundless creative possibilities and a physical interaction with materials drew me to building sculpture. I approach my work with an intensity and a strong work ethic because I believe that it can have a function in the world. I see art as a means of communication, a visual vocabulary that holds the potential to transcend language, race, and culture.
In 1994, I completed an exhibition that consisted of 20 sculptural works that made up an installation at a fictional natural science museum. Viewers were invited to step into a possible future and investigate what had survived our planet’s environmental extinction, seeing how skeletal remains and technological artifacts were perceived and explained by another culture’s historians and archaeologists. The show, Remains and Artifacts of a Dead Planet, utilized the concept of extinction to physically show what will be left of our civilization. I designed this exhibit to comment on the current state of human existence that consumes the planet’s resources, pollutes the environment, and destroys ecosystems at a rate that has us hurdling toward mass extinction. I wanted to urge viewers to contemplate a future beyond next week or next year, a global future.
Since then, I have made additional work that explores the connection of the human body to the health of the living planet by contrasting biological functions with industrial and technological processes. How has modern life affected the living body? Can we ever replace the natural with the mechanical? What is the effect of injecting technology into the body or in the planet? I am primarily interested in pre-computer, mechanical technology. Nature and industry are constantly mixing, the end result is unknown and yet it seems to be the world’s fate. The work operates on the enlarged transformation of the internal body. Organs, tissues, and body systems grow in size and begin to occupy space in the world as their purposes evolve into functional devices that speak to the current state of existence on this planet.
My work often involves dismantling and re-creating industrial machines, as well as creating new objects and devices from scratch. I have found useful allies in local industry, who I approach for access to equipment, donations of materials, and inspiration of scale. My studio is filled with tools that are common to a body shop or machine shop, yet the activity often seems closer to a make-shift operating room. Both environments seem to radiate the destructive and reconstructive energy that is a driving factor in my working process.
My interest in teaching has emerged from my own desire to find inspiring, energetic and knowledgeable teachers. I have sought out my ideal professor or mentor and that is the teacher I have strived to become. Teaching sculpture is more than the dispensing of technical know-how, it is encouraging someone to dream the impossible, and then guiding them into making that dream a physical reality. From my teaching experiences, my role as a facilitator of artists and other creative people came naturally.
In 1999, I started The Crucible to create a place where people of all backgrounds could explore their own creativity and express themselves by working with their hands. I wanted others to have the opportunity and empowerment that I experienced through the discovery of my own creative process.
When I was the The Crucible’s Executive Director, I had to put my creation of sculpture on hold for almost twelve years, but that position afforded me the amazing opportunity to manifest on a larger scale, as when I directed and produced the Fire Ballets and Fire Arts Festivals. It was a labor of love, one that encapsulated all my efforts and experiences that I feel follow the philosophy of Buckminster Fuller:
‘You belong to the universe. Your significance will remain forever obscure to you, but…you are fulfilling your role if you apply yourself to converting your experience to the highest advantage of others.”